Lofi Hip Hop: History, Aethetics, Artists and The Rise To Popularity
While when we started Stereofox back in 2013 the instrumental and beat-driven music on the website was rather scarce, it wasn't long before we uncovered the peacefulness lofi and chillhop music were bringing on the table. While we're not a beat niche website, a great deal of the artists we follow and cover starting 2014/15 dwell or started off as lofi producers.
This article is ours (Lu and Ivo's) take on the lofi hip hop genre and trying to put our knowledge and observations into what we hope ends up a well-written and informative article, especially for those who are not that caught up with what's been going on.
What is LoFi
What’s the first thing that pops into your head when I mention the term “lofi”? The chances are high that ‘study beats’, ‘lofi hip hop’ or even an image of an anime girl who’s hyper focused on her studies crosses your mind. In the past, acts such as Ariel Pink, Beck, and even Portishead were tagged with the coveted label of lofi. These artists treaded uncharted ground through purposefully incorporating imperfections in their works – the kind that truly challenged the listener even after they gained the ears of a more commercial audience.
Fast-forward to now, the rise of lofi hip hop / chill study beats has consequently changed the way many perceive the overall term of lofi, especially if we consider the association with hip hop. The core nature of lofi is of course low fidelity. And this is relates to production quality that is somewhat shoddy, including the abstinence from polish and sheen since vinyl crackles, distortion and peculiar rhythms are found in abundance. Although, you’re only looking at a miniscule piece of the puzzle by attempting to make sense, and describe modern day lofi according to its sonic elements. Something which also has to pop up in mind when we speak about lofi hip hop is community, the type of feelings that these astonishingly minimalist tracks are able to evoke, and the range of tongue-in-cheek visuals that accommodate this contemporary subculture.
As the years go by, a phenomenon that is beautiful to watch is how a particular generation ushers in a prolific DIY music movement that eventually becomes a staple. The 1960s and 70s saw the genesis of Garage Rock and Punk respectively, then came the upsurge of Indie and House in the 80s. My point with this is that lofi hip hop may potentially be the contemporary DIY musical movement alongside genres like vaporwave and bedroom pop.
When we discuss the history of lofi hip hop it’s vital to keep in mind that this actually isn’t a new occurrence. Sonically speaking, hip hop pretty much started off as lofi and boom-bap serves as a shining example of that sentiment. The producers that were significant when it came to the proliferation of the lofi sound in hip hop include Pete Rock, J Dilla, Nujabes, and DJ Shadow to name a few. In their time, their works were simply described as beats/instrumentals or just slotted into the hip hop category. And ultimately, lofi hip hop combines elements of lofi and hip hop with sampling playing at the core of it’s approach
The actual rise of the term lofi hip hop played a massive role. Because there was a general name conceived of the low fidelity beats that were released, plenty of music producers began to explore what the genre ‘unofficial’ genre had in store. This may sound relatively obvious but it was necessary to the growth of the scene. By naming something you create a difference through providing an identity and making it real.
How The Lofi Hip Hop Radio to Relax/Study Took Over The Internet
As we mentioned in the beginning, we got into the lofi and chillhop scene towards the end of 2014 and it was simply because of the love for the sound and the approachability of the artists that it eventually became a frequent sound in our feed. The whole raise to power of the genre and memes kinda somehow passed through us and one day we just realized that's not this niche genre that we stumbled upon a few years back. How did all happen though?
I guess in those years it was YouTube and partially SoundCloud that brought this whole thing to the forefront of the Internet. Spotify was just picking up and Apple Music was not yet launched. For us, it was Chillhop Music who firstly introduced the genre. We often partners on premieres in the early days and talking to Bas and co was very eye-opening. That was followed by finding channels like Chilled Cow, College Music, Ryan Celsius, NEOTIC to name a few. I (Ivo) am writing this out of memories, but I can also tell that the lofi and chillhop producers were among the nicest people we got to talk to. In those early days of the website not everyone was responding to us or was willing to make exclusive mixes or interviews (shoutout to Birocratic).
But again, why this all became so popular? It can also be attributed to YouTube launching its 24/7 feature and the fact that they seriously pushed that content in the early days of its existence. Those endlessly looped and laid back anime aesthetics paired with the gentle and rather zen nature of the beats made for a really good chill session soundtrack and... well, studying or gaming. Basically things most of us were/are doing. In addition, back then YouTube was a lot less loose when it came to copyright infringement... a nightmare that's been chasing many content creators nowadays and those looking to monetize the genre and its popularity. That's a topic I would discuss in another article, but the landscape has changed significantly and I do believe a call for discussion should be made especially when it comes to the balance between financial rewards when it comes to artists themselves and the content creators.
The Lo-Fi Hip Hop Anime Aesthetic
As mentioned in the beginning, a fundamental part of the culture is the compelling visual appeal that is presented in various forms – three in particular. And they are anime, cartoons (yes there is a difference between the two) and videos that bear a retro/vintage aesthetic or have been heavily pampered with those FX.
If you scroll through the extensive list of lofi study beats playlists and radios, the ubiquitous presence of anime (or anime drawings) is borderline excessive compared to cartoons or retro videos. There’s a general consensus that Anime best captures the essence of these laid-back yet visceral beats. Arguably, part of that reason is owed to Nujabes and director Shinichiro Watanabe. In the early 2000s an Anime called Samurai Shamploo was created by Shinichiro Watanabe and it went on to be an absolute classic. Coincidently, this show was scored by genre pioneer Nujabes, along with another renowned anime by Mr Watanabe, Cowboy Bepop. Nujabes propelled lofi hip hop and since many came across lofi through anime, the connection between the two became a staple. This has gone beyond the boundaries of visual aesthetic as it’s a common occurrence for lofi produces to sample scenes from anime to include in their tracks, thus accentuating that unexplainable serenity we’re gifted by the genre.
Significant lofi hip hop artists
I think the importance of Nujabges and J Dilla to the genre cannot be stressed enough. That being said, a lot has been written on that topic and I want to bring other names I started looking up to once I (Ivo) discovered chillhop and then eventually lofi hip hop music.
To this day I find Knxwledge and Madlib as some of the hardest working people and to a great extent the solid champions of the lofi vibe. Other names that pop up are jar jar jr, shamana, Kupla, Jinsang, idealism, invention_, idk - making those lists always makes me feel weird, just because there are tons of good producers out there, many of which either have grown out of the lofi genre or are pushing the boundaries towards other more electronic or beat-driven genres. And yes, there are tons of people who are just copying and pasting the sound, adding some crackle and being un-imaginative at all, but honestly - such is life and dwelling on this right now feels uncertain.
We highly encourage you to check the interviews and mixes on our website as we've had some of the kindest and nicest producers on here who shared their journey and stories.
Popular lofi hip hop radios
Earlier this year we published our Best Lofi Hip Hop Radio Stations on YouTube article, but in order to have a rather complete overview of the landscape we thought it's worth the mention a few content creators.
The most prominent channels (at the date of writing this articles) are people we've mentioned before in this articles - Chillhop Music, Chilled Cow, Ryan Celsius, College Music (who are nicely venturing out from the world of lofi music as of lately), nourish, the bootleg boy, NEOTIC, Dreamy, Ambition, The Jazzhop Cafe, In Your Chill and Fantastic Music. Also, if you dig them full beattapes, then STEEZYASFUCK are your guys.
Popular lofi Memes
If we’re talking visuals, we can’t neglect to mention the relevance of memes within the scene. Meme culture overall has altered the musical landscape through propelling some of the biggest hits of our time – "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X and "Bad & Boujee" by The Migos are shining examples of that statement. This goes to show the association between memes and success… The more memes are created about a particular artist/song/brand, the higher the likelihood of success.
The infamous lofi hip hop girl
Below is a meme which went viral on the internet and exposed many to “Lo Fi Hip Hop”, and it was originally derived from a tweet by Twitter user Punkzbunny.https://twitter.com/punkzbunny/status/957945889003368449?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
Chilledcow, one of the most popular YouTube channels in the Lo-fi community has a GIF of an anime girl studying on their ‘beats to relax/study’ live stream. She arguably became the face of the genre, particularly when she was hailed as ‘the lo-fi girl’. When Chilledcow was mistakenly taken down by Youtube temporarily, the void emanated throughout the internet and the masses responded with a flood of memes. This moment highlighted the deep bond strangers across the globe have for the genre, and the outcry presented itself in many forms. Here are some popular memes about the lo-fi girl and her disappearance.https://twitter.com/min_uit/status/1231256466281107456?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
And there's another one that's definitely worth the mention.https://twitter.com/luulubuu/status/1232051514820218881?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
Popular Lofi Hip Hop Cosplay
With the raise of popularity, all the hype and subsequently the memes that rolled in across Twitter, Reddit and YouTube, it should come as a no surprise that there's plenty of cosplay attempts floating around the Internet. What's more is that channels re-post and encourage fans re-imagining the their aesthetics.
Besides the cosplay, there's tons of fan art of the study girl on ChilledCow's Instagram channel and the Chillhop Racoon - a friendly which our Dutch mates introduced a few years back. Going beyond the cosplay, people can also order their Youtooz figurines. Another way to never leave the aesthetics behind, even when you have finally switched your laptop off.
Best / most popular lofi hip hop playlists
We touched upon some of the key content creators in the genre, but with the raise of Apple Music and Spotify, their editorial staff quickly realized the potential and the need for such playlists.
If you're an Apple Music there are 2 playlists you should definitely be following. For those who rather enjoy head nodding, there's BEATstrumentals and if you're in a rather lonesome headspace - Bedtime Beats is definitely the perfect source of zen.
Spotify have a rather larger collection of playlists, including Lofi Hip-Hop which covers a lot of the classics and Lo-Fi Beats which based on our observations focuses on smaller artists. For the jazzheads, there's always Jazz Vibes.
Well, that should be a wrap for now. If you think we've missed something or you can always reach us out on Twitter or Instagram.
Also, if you want to check our chillhop and lofi selection on Spotify, drop by the Chill Beats playlist on Spotify and Apple Music.